Americans idolize their movie stars. They're a part of our pop culture. But few have earned the distinction of being timeless icons...like Marilyn Monroe.
She died exactly 50 years ago -- August 5th 1962 -- but she remains very much alive in the minds and hearts of a legion of fans. She graces the covers of magazines. There's a flood of new books, movies about her life, stamps, and even a new line of cosmetics due out this fall that will bear her name.
Forbes Magazine rated Monroe last year as third in its annual list of top deceased celebrity earners, having earned $27 million. She has tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and more than three million fans on Facebook. It seems we can't get enough of America's sex goddess. People are still fascinated with a woman who was magical and whose story never gets old.
For her 36 years of life, Marilyn Monroe yearned to be loved.
While she had a lasting love affair with the camera, an entire generation had a love affair with the mystical blonde who was the most visible Venus of her time. It's an affair that continues even half a century after her death.
People I spoke to at random, told me they are still fascinated by her. Joan Kimmel said, "It's like Jacqueline Kennedy. The name comes up and people want to know more." Joe Bevilhacqua explained, "She died young. We never saw her mature as an adult, so there is a certain mystery."
Marcia Bikales recalled, "I kind of identified with her 50 years ago. I was blonde, I was cute and had a cute figure."
A product of the 50s, Marilyn Monroe was as real as hoolla hoops, tail fins and the cold war. She was the girl every man dreamed of.
Lois Banner, a scholar and feminist historian who has taught classes about Marilyn Monroe at the University of Southern California told me she sometimes thinks she "was the great enchantress in western history since Cleopatra." Banner spent ten years researching her second book about Monroe. "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox,"
is being released this weekend. During an interview, Banner described Monroe like this, "She was able to project vulnerability and a sexuality that was not threatening, that was warm and that promised a kind of endless pleasure."
Marilyn glowed with baby doll innocence, but her walk and her expression radiated sex. Born Norman Jean Baker and brought up in foster homes, where she later revealed she was sexually abused, the star's public image was different from the way she saw herself.
According to Banner, "Marilyn thought of herself as introverted, as shy, often times not intelligent." The author said, however, she thought the actress was a brilliant woman who knew exactly how top invent herself.
While she had difficult relationships with men, Marilyn had a wonderful relationship with the camera that has never been matched.
During a 1982 interview, photographer Eve Arnold, who died this year at the age of 99, described that relationship simply. "She was the animal trainer and we, the photographers, the beast."
Author Banner saw it a little differently. "She looked on the camera as a person she was going to make love to, so the camera became her lover."
As a teenager, I got to photograph Marilyn Monroe after using a high school press pass to get into a benefit performance of the circus where she rode a pink elephant. I found something magical about her as she strutted in front of my camera. She generated an electric charge with each click of the shutter and seemed to toy with the lens the way a kitten would toy with a spool of wool." It was an unforgettable experience.
Marilyn wanted to be taken seriously as an actress and desperately sought affection. Marriages top Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller failed. She fell into deep depression and was undergoing intense therapy. On a sunny afternoon in August 1962, she was gone. Her death officially declared a suicide, but with the passing of time, the rumors and conspiracy theorists have suggested her purported affairs with John and Robert Kennedy or even the Mafia somehow played a hand in her untimely death.
Though in life, Marilyn Monroe was idolized as America's number one sex queen, she wanted more. According to author Banner "She wanted a home, a family, children. Above all, she wanted love." She never forgot who her friends were. "People made me a star," she said in one of her last interviews. "No studio, no person, but the people." And it's the people who carry on her legacy. A columnist once observed that "Marilyn Monroe was the stuff dreams are made of. Her legacy to us is that we are still dreaming."
MARILYN MONROE---50 YEARS LATER IS THE FOCUS OF THIS WEEK'S PIX 11 NEWS CLOSEUP. AUTHOR LOIS BANNER REVEALS SOME STARTLING NEW DETAILS ABOUT THE HOLLYWOOD ICON, INCLUDING EVIDENCE THAT SHE WAS BI-SEXUAL AND AN ACTRESS WHOSE COMEDIC STYLE WAS INFLUENCED BY CHARLIE CHAPLIN. JOIN US, TAPE US. SUNDAY MORNING AT 6.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun